Breaking Glass Ceilings

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to attend a Women in Engineering conference at San Jose State University. I remember the night before, picking between going to the conference or attending a color run organized by my fraternity. The latter would definitely be more fun, and I wouldn’t have to wake up so early. Also, I would spend less money on commute. All signs pointed to going to the color run instead, but curiosity took over me (plus the fact that I paid for the registration fee already).

I am so glad I went, because I finally got the inspiration to dream again.

The women were all inspiring. For one thing, the participants came from various backgrounds — community colleges, state Universities, high schools, professionals. All different walks of life, all open to hearing each other’s stories, all genuinely interested in making connections.

During a group discussion, I proudly announced that as a woman in the Philippines, I never felt discriminated. Our country had a very good gender balance. We had two women presidents. A software engineer from Netflix explained this phenomenon very clearly to me. She, like me, hailed from a developing country and like me, gender equality was not really an issue only because there are so many other issues that need to be focused on. Poverty and corruption were too prevalent that gender equality/women empowerment took a back seat.

At that instant, my rose colored glasses were removed. I started to see instances when I was treated unfairly (both to my advantage and disadvantage) in a different light. I remember feeling so limited because all the top executives in the company I interned in were male and foreign expats. Feeling so cheated because people would assume I got more votes than my opponent simply because I was against a boy running in a male-dominated course. Feeling so lost because I had no one who looked like me to look up to back at home.

Seeing these women hold their own in the cut-throat industry of Silicon Valley inspires me to pursue a career in technology. It is quite daunting, because it would require me to stay and be employed in a country where I am not a citizen. So many odds are against me. But at the same time, I feel so motivated. I feel as if my own glass ceiling has been shattered.

Now, I understand why people choose to go to America and leave the comfort of home behind. Now, I see the point of going out of my comfort zone, even if I am ‘falling behind’ all my friends who choose other paths. That’s not to say that my path is better than the others, but I am finally comfortable in saying that I am happy where I am now.

When people would ask me what I wanted to become before, I always answered modestly. Maybe it is because I came from an Asian country, but I never saw the point of dreaming big. Now that I have dipped my feet in corporate America, I see that this humility has backfired on me. It made me feel that I do not have the right to dream big. And so, I have stopped dreaming.

After hearing those fabulous women talk about their careers, I am now comfortable in saying that I want to be a CEO when I grow up. And for once, it is not only because I want to lead a rich, comfortable life. I want to give back, but not just by uplifting the poorer communities (although I don’t think that’s ever going to be out of the picture). I want to be like those women, breaking glass ceilings, giving girls someone to look up to. I want to make it easier for the future generations to dream. And, for the first time, I want to make me proud of myself.

Who knows how long this journey will take, but at least now I know where I want to go.

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